Born with a natural affinity for music, Vanessa Carlton was able to play the piano by ear from her earliest years and subsequently received coaching from her music teacher mother and composed her first piece of music at just eight years old. The family's eclectic record collection ranged from Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to classical music and her love of the latter segued into an interest in ballet. In 1994 after studying at a Montessori school she started attending the School of American Ballet in New York City although after graduating she rejected the tough life of a professional dancer in favour of pursuing a career as a singer and musician. Waiting tables by day and performing in local clubs at night, Carlton eventually caught the attention of several labels including initially Atlantic Records, but when a deal with them failed to materialise she was signed to A&M Records in 2001 by the legendary producer Jimmy Iovine.
Early unproductive pre-contract sessions were either abandoned or re-recorded when the company president and producer Ron Fair, impressed by her songs took an active hand in the recordings. Released the following year, Carlton's excellent debut album Be Not Nobody was preceded by the Grammy nominated piano-lead single 'A Thousand Miles', which was further sales-boosted by its inclusion in the soundtrack to the movie 'Legally Blond'. It reached the Top 5 in the USA and the Top 10 in the UK. An impressive debut, the album hit the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic and by the end of the following year had sold almost two and a half million copies worldwide. While the record also yielded another international hit with 'Ordinary Day' a third track ('Pretty Baby') failed to crack the Top 40. Carlton's presence on the charts was maintained however when her appearance as featured singer on Counting Crows' cover of Joni Mitchell's 'Big Yellow Taxi' was a Top 3 hit in Australia and New Zealand and reached No 16 in the UK.
Carlton returned in 2004 with Harmonium, a record that featured four tracks co-written with her then boyfriend, Third Eye Blind singer Stephan Jenkins, who also produced the album. Despite guest contributions from Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, Pharrell Williams, Luis Conte, Abe Laboriel Jr. and Jerry Hey the new record failed to emulate its predecessor's success and having been unable to provide the company with any further hit singles lead to her departure from the fickle white suits at A&M.
Continuing to work with Jenkins as well as former 4 Non Blondes singer/songwriter and producer Linda Perry, Carlton signed to hip-hop producer Irv Gotti's The Inc label for the release of Heroes & Thieves, a transitional album that maintained the previous record's Fleetwood Mac connection and found Stevie Nicks featuring on guest vocals on the excellent 'The One'. Although garnering positive critical reviews the album failed to sell in significant quantities and only yielded one minor UK hit single with 'Nolita Fairytale'.
Once again finding herself without a record label and her personal and professional relationship with Jenkins behind her she retreated from the spotlight and later travelled to Peter Gabriel's Real World studios in Wiltshire to work on a new record with successful producer/musician and former one half of Perfecto Records Steve Osborne. With contributions from drummer Patrick Hallahan (My Morning Jacket), guitarist Ari Ingber (The Upwelling) and the Capital Children's Choir, the sparse, stripped down Rabbits On The Run was in complete contrast to her previous albums, rejecting the larger often orchestrated productions that characterised the early releases in favour of a more intimate organic sound. Released in 2011 on the New York independent label Razor & Tie Records the album's undeservedly poor commercial reception was compounded by the continuing absence of any hit singles yet it clearly demonstrated her maturing as a writer and musician.
Later the same year, Carlton and her friend K.T. Tunstall performed a duet version of one of the album's standout tracks 'I Don't Wanna Be A Bride' live from the Tabernacle in London's Notting Hill. The now self-confessed bisexual Carlton married fellow American singer/songwriter John McCauley of the alt-rock band Deer Tick at the end of December 2013 and the following year informed fans on Facebook that they were expecting a baby, an event that would inevitably delay the release of her next album Liberman until mid 2015.
Undoubtedly a prodigious and determined talent, Vanessa Carlton's records have won her many fans although only her debut album has rewarded her with major commercial success. With her musical chops in place from the get-go (particularly her highly impressive piano playing) successive albums have shown her songwriting significantly gaining in confidence and if she has a weakness it would be a lack of vocal depth and range, her thin vulnerable voice often failing to match the quality of her impressive catalogue of songs.
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